Reflections of Bad Seed

We all know about the black sheep syndrome — the brother or uncle or cousin who took a weird turn in life and wound up destitute or dead or in jail. (Like my younger brother Tony, who lived a marginal existence before suddenly dying last year.) And no one thinks this is a reflection upon anyone but the person who took those turns. And yet the sordid saga of Matthew Nolan, the older brother of Inception director Chris Nolan and screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, seems to contain echoes of the films that his siblings have made, or vice versa.


The photo being held by Batman in this doctored photo may or may not be a likeness of Matthew Nolan

Matthew Nolan’s story — financial scams, check-kiting schemes, an attempted jailbreak, an accusation of murder — has been hashed over in a 6.27 London Sunday Times piece by Christopher Goodwin .

At the end of the article Goodwin writes about “how eerily the mystery about Matthew Nolan’s true identity, and his descent into a paranoid world of aliases, crime and murder, mirrors his brothers’ dark and bloody filmmaking obsessions.”

Goodwin also notes that the actions of Leonardo DiCaprio‘s character in Inception seem to contain reflections of Matthew Nolan’s misadventures.

DiCaprio “plays a conman who steals valuable secrets from people’s minds while they sleep,” he reports. “When he is embroiled in a deadly blackmailing scheme, he becomes an international fugitive whose dangerous secret life costs him everything he has ever loved. The film’s disturbing catch-line is: ‘Your mind is the scene of the crime.’”

On top of which is was pretty hard not to think of the jailed-Joker plotline when it was reported last November that Mathew Nolan had attempted to break out of Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center using “31 feet of rope made from bed sheets, a body harness, a clip that would have been used to unlock handcuffs and a razor.”

Goodwin reports that “although the Nolan brothers’ late father, Brendan Nolan, who worked in advertising, was British, the Nolan brothers spent much of their childhood in Chicago because their mother, Christina, is from there.

“All three brothers — Matt, now 41, Chris, 39 and Jonathan, 34, known as Jonah — were privately educated and have dual British and American citizenship. [But] Matt, despite his English accent, is the only Nolan brother to have settled in Chicago . He has been living there with his American wife, Erika, and their two young boys in a $650,000, three-storey house in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood, not far from where the Obamas lived before moving to Washington.


(l. ) Chris and Jonathan Nolan; (r.) an alleged photo of Matthew Nolan and (apparently) one of his children.

“Matt is the most charismatic, likeable and engaging of the three brothers, say people who know the family. Chris, the director and the most famous, comes across as very English — stiff, formal, private and weirdly obsessive: he keeps both his passports on him at all times in case of emergency. ‘He’s a cold guy who makes cold films,’ one producer recently said.

“Matt inherited his father’s gift as a storyteller. After their father died last year, Jonah Nolan recalled of him: ‘He would make up stories, most of the time on the spot. He had an amazing ability to spin a yarn, which he did right up to the end.’

“With those easy charms, Matt might have been expected to be the one to become the successful filmmaker. Brendan Nolan gave his children an 8mm camera when they were very young, and he and Chris and their friends made little films together. But Matt and Chris drifted apart over the years and now it’s Chris and Jonah who are friends and collaborators, despite their greater age difference.

“Chris and Jonah first worked together a decade ago on Memento, a paranoid psychological thriller, told in reverse, about a man with amnesia who desperately tries to find out who murdered his wife.

“The Nolan brothers’ nightmarish and bloody vision and their obsessive fascination with the criminal mind, the boundaries of psychological identity and social transgression, have since made them among the most successful filmmakers in the history of cinema.”

A friend of Matthew Nolan’s named Tom Sedlacek is said to have “often wondered whether sibling jealousy over Chris and Jonah Nolan’s extraordinary success in Hollywood may have pushed Matt, the oldest and most charismatic brother, to try to find his own fast-track to wealth.”

It was reported a year ago last March that Matthew Nolan had been arrested in Chicago on suspicion of murder, in connection with a 2005 killing in Costa Rica of Florida businessman Robert Cohen. “According to reports, Nolan and alleged accomplice Douglas Mejia went to Costa Rica to try to reclaim a 5 million pound debt that Cohen owed to another businessman,” one account said.

Nolan “had been under investigation by Chicago Police in a $700,000 bank-fraud (or check-kiting) scheme when FBI agents here nabbed him over the Cohen killing.

“Nolan pretended he was interested in doing business in Costa Rica when the two met in a hotel. But his real mission was to recover $7 million (U.S.) Cohen owed another Florida man, authorities said. An accomplice kidnapped Cohen and the men tried to extort the money from Cohen’s family; but when that failed, they killed Cohen, Costa Rican authorities said.”

A Wall Street Journal headline last fall read “Holy Bat Brother!” with the subhead “Was Director’s Kin Plotting Escape?”

“Matthew Nolan intended to do what no one has ever done — escape from the high-rise downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center,” a Chicago Tribune story reported. “The MCC is no Blackgate Penitentiary — one of the prisons in the Batman comics — but a Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman said its records show no one has ever escaped from the jail where gang leaders, mobsters and higher-lever drug dealers await trial. ”

43 thoughts on “Reflections of Bad Seed

  1. Wow. Fascinating story. Think of what lies behind the Wachowski, Hughes, Coen, Duplass, Russo, Straus, Pate, Polish, Shrader, Kasden, Cronenweth, Douglas, Scott, MacDonald brothers.

  2. Wow. Fascinating story. Think of what lies behind the Wachowski, Hughes, Coen, Duplass, Russo, Straus, Pate, Polish, Shrader, Kasden, Cronenweth, Douglas, Scott, MacDonald brothers.

  3. I really think too much is being read into their personal history, none of which matters, and placed into their business making films.

    Not a story.

  4. I really think too much is being read into their personal history, none of which matters, and placed into their business making films.

    Not a story.

  5. “He’s a cold guy who makes cold films.” I believe that’s producer-speak for “He refuses to do blow and hang out at strip clubs with me.”

    It’s rather a shame that an unfortunate twist of family history has enabled this Times guy to spin a web of Psych 101 bullshit.

  6. “He’s a cold guy who makes cold films.” I believe that’s producer-speak for “He refuses to do blow and hang out at strip clubs with me.”

    It’s rather a shame that an unfortunate twist of family history has enabled this Times guy to spin a web of Psych 101 bullshit.

  7. Wells to Colin: I said at the beginning of the piece that “we all know about the black sheep syndrome” and that “no one thinks this is a reflection upon anyone but the person who took those turns.” But to say the Matthew Nolan saga is “not a story” is flat-out ridiculous. It’s not a major story — a side angle thing, I’d say — but it obviously is a story of at least some interest. Particularly with Matthew’s stuff echoing to some extent the sociopathic crime elements in the Nolan brothers films…I mean, are you kidding or what?

    And Glenn, really…you think the echoes and linkage thing is total “bullshit”? Two brothers write and direct imaginative films about crime, crime, nothing but crime. And the other brother, perhaps looking to compete on some level (if only financially), creates his own real-life crime scenarios that the brothers, one could say, have seemed to reflect on some level in their films.

    The relationship between the activities of the two younger brothers and the older sociopathic brother might be marginal or anecdotal, but you can’t just throw all that information out and say, “Naah, total bullshit…nothing there….blaaah.” You know that if you had been told this story in a Chicago bar by a friend of the Nolan family that you wouldn’t wave your hand and go, “What a bunch of crap!” You would go, “Hmm, curious….weird. The psychologies of brothers can sometimes be linked in strange ways.”

  8. Wells to Colin: I said at the beginning of the piece that “we all know about the black sheep syndrome” and that “no one thinks this is a reflection upon anyone but the person who took those turns.” But to say the Matthew Nolan saga is “not a story” is flat-out ridiculous. It’s not a major story — a side angle thing, I’d say — but it obviously is a story of at least some interest. Particularly with Matthew’s stuff echoing to some extent the sociopathic crime elements in the Nolan brothers films…I mean, are you kidding or what?

    And Glenn, really…you think the echoes and linkage thing is total “bullshit”? Two brothers write and direct imaginative films about crime, crime, nothing but crime. And the other brother, perhaps looking to compete on some level (if only financially), creates his own real-life crime scenarios that the brothers, one could say, have seemed to reflect on some level in their films.

    The relationship between the activities of the two younger brothers and the older sociopathic brother might be marginal or anecdotal, but you can’t just throw all that information out and say, “Naah, total bullshit…nothing there….blaaah.” You know that if you had been told this story in a Chicago bar by a friend of the Nolan family that you wouldn’t wave your hand and go, “What a bunch of crap!” You would go, “Hmm, curious….weird. The psychologies of brothers can sometimes be linked in strange ways.”

  9. Matthew Nolan is a story, sure. But he has no measurable impact on Chris and Jonah’s filmmaking and until they say he does, the story should be focused on him alone.

  10. Matthew Nolan is a story, sure. But he has no measurable impact on Chris and Jonah’s filmmaking and until they say he does, the story should be focused on him alone.

  11. I disagree. I understand where you’re coming from, but I definitely disagree.

    What I think is that either you can say that personal history has no bearing on criticizing and commenting on the films, or that personal history informs on the biases and ideas (or origin of ideas) that permeate the filmmaker’s work. But I don’t think it’s right to take the middle path you’re talking about, where that stuff only matters if Chris Nolan says it does.

    I think it’s definitely true to say that this doesn’t reflect in any personal way on Nolan’s work, but it’s interesting information that obviously casts a specific light on some of the themes and motifs that permeate his work.

  12. I disagree. I understand where you’re coming from, but I definitely disagree.

    What I think is that either you can say that personal history has no bearing on criticizing and commenting on the films, or that personal history informs on the biases and ideas (or origin of ideas) that permeate the filmmaker’s work. But I don’t think it’s right to take the middle path you’re talking about, where that stuff only matters if Chris Nolan says it does.

    I think it’s definitely true to say that this doesn’t reflect in any personal way on Nolan’s work, but it’s interesting information that obviously casts a specific light on some of the themes and motifs that permeate his work.

  13. I should have clarified. What I meant to say is that I see this as a suspicious attempt to malign Chris and Jonah’s films when it’s a matter of personal issues.

    It very well may leave a mark on the psyche of their stories. I just don’t feel they should have to justify it when making films.

  14. I should have clarified. What I meant to say is that I see this as a suspicious attempt to malign Chris and Jonah’s films when it’s a matter of personal issues.

    It very well may leave a mark on the psyche of their stories. I just don’t feel they should have to justify it when making films.

  15. Who suggested that the filmmaking Nolans need to justify or explain anyone’s actions but their own?

    For the third time, I began the story by saying that “we all know about the black sheep syndrome” and that “no one thinks this is a reflection upon anyone but the person who took those turns.”

  16. Who suggested that the filmmaking Nolans need to justify or explain anyone’s actions but their own?

    For the third time, I began the story by saying that “we all know about the black sheep syndrome” and that “no one thinks this is a reflection upon anyone but the person who took those turns.”

  17. No one is suggesting that Matt’s actions reflect negatively on the brothers. It is merely a factual account of part of their family story without apparent sensationalism. Given that they do have an apparent fascination with the criminal mind, it is relevant to explore whether Matt’s actions may have influenced them. That is all it is. There is no need to be too defensive about it. Their lives diverged long ago and they are totally different now.

  18. No one is suggesting that Matt’s actions reflect negatively on the brothers. It is merely a factual account of part of their family story without apparent sensationalism. Given that they do have an apparent fascination with the criminal mind, it is relevant to explore whether Matt’s actions may have influenced them. That is all it is. There is no need to be too defensive about it. Their lives diverged long ago and they are totally different now.

  19. I think I get what Wells is saying, and I don’t think it’s particularly controversial. How many times have you read an interview with a director (or writer or other artist) who said “If I didn’t have this outlet, who knows WHAT I might do?” Most artistic people are not well-adjusted types who fit neatly into the 9 to 5 world. They’re alienated, they’re outsiders, they don’t like rules — all traits shared with criminals.

    In a different reality, one in which the other two hadn’t made it big, maybe they’d have all robbed banks together. Probably not, because he’s clearly a psycho and they aren’t. But it’s fun to think about.

  20. I think I get what Wells is saying, and I don’t think it’s particularly controversial. How many times have you read an interview with a director (or writer or other artist) who said “If I didn’t have this outlet, who knows WHAT I might do?” Most artistic people are not well-adjusted types who fit neatly into the 9 to 5 world. They’re alienated, they’re outsiders, they don’t like rules — all traits shared with criminals.

    In a different reality, one in which the other two hadn’t made it big, maybe they’d have all robbed banks together. Probably not, because he’s clearly a psycho and they aren’t. But it’s fun to think about.

  21. I think frank pinpoints the general idea here (“ppl who don’t fit neatly into the 9 to 5 world”) without going overboard on the implications or allusions.

    Who knows.

  22. I think frank pinpoints the general idea here (“ppl who don’t fit neatly into the 9 to 5 world”) without going overboard on the implications or allusions.

    Who knows.

  23. This makes me think of a few things. The twin brothers who pass themselves off as the same man in “The Prestige,” even going so far as to fuck the same wife, always struck me as way sicker than the Hugh Jackman character. I’d never heard of Matthew Nolan till now, so I always figured it was some weird allegory re: Chris & Jonah. You know, families are nothing if not weird, and often we have nothing in common but blood and some shared history. But I agree 100% with the guy who said Nolan makes cold films. I’ve never given a shit about any of them. Finally, who wants to lay odds that Di Caprio and Cillian Murphy are some variation of father & son in “Inception”?

  24. This makes me think of a few things. The twin brothers who pass themselves off as the same man in “The Prestige,” even going so far as to fuck the same wife, always struck me as way sicker than the Hugh Jackman character. I’d never heard of Matthew Nolan till now, so I always figured it was some weird allegory re: Chris & Jonah. You know, families are nothing if not weird, and often we have nothing in common but blood and some shared history. But I agree 100% with the guy who said Nolan makes cold films. I’ve never given a shit about any of them. Finally, who wants to lay odds that Di Caprio and Cillian Murphy are some variation of father & son in “Inception”?

  25. The phrase “obsessive fascination with the criminal mind?” Yeah, as a matter of fact, that DOES strike me as total bullshit. Or at least the scare quotes aspect of it does. I was reading it and I thought, “Oh, wow, I wonder if, like, maybe Phil Karlson had a brother who was a TOTAL CRIMINAL!?!? That would explain EVERYTHING…”

  26. The phrase “obsessive fascination with the criminal mind?” Yeah, as a matter of fact, that DOES strike me as total bullshit. Or at least the scare quotes aspect of it does. I was reading it and I thought, “Oh, wow, I wonder if, like, maybe Phil Karlson had a brother who was a TOTAL CRIMINAL!?!? That would explain EVERYTHING…”

  27. I have been following this story for a while now, and recently I came across http://www.Bringdadahomesafely.org I think its the website by the wife.

    On July 7th, Matt was Sentenced, so I guess there is a petition out now for him as well, to stop his extradition, From reading the website though I feel he is innocent. There is a lot of information there, including his Elocution to the Court and Character References from people that know him.

    Check it out, I just wanted to Pass on the word,

    It’s annoying how media has a way of slamming People just because they have family members who are famous, and just want there 5 seconds of fame.

  28. I have been following this story for a while now, and recently I came across http://www.Bringdadahomesafely.org I think its the website by the wife.

    On July 7th, Matt was Sentenced, so I guess there is a petition out now for him as well, to stop his extradition, From reading the website though I feel he is innocent. There is a lot of information there, including his Elocution to the Court and Character References from people that know him.

    Check it out, I just wanted to Pass on the word,

    It’s annoying how media has a way of slamming People just because they have family members who are famous, and just want there 5 seconds of fame.

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